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Contacting the Dead, Spirit Communication, Mediumship

and the Research of Gary E. Schwartz. PhD









Contacting the Dead or Spirit Beings, Spiritual Communication, Mediumship

& the Research of Gary E. Schwartz, PhD


Article by by Walter Semkiw, MD


Gary E. Schwartz, PhD, is a professor at the University of Arizona and the Director of its Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health.  Dr. Schwartz received his PhD in psychology from Harvard University and was a professor of psychiatry and psychology at Yale University before joining the University of Arizona.

Dr. Schwartz, pictured to the right, has had a longtime interest in scientifically assessing mediums, individuals who claim to be able to communicate with deceased individuals, that is, with spirit beings. Some of the world’s more famous mediums include John Edward, who was featured in the television show Crossing Over, and James Van Praagh, a best-selling author on communicating with the dead.

HBO Experiment to Assess the Accuracy of Mediums Communicating with Spirit Beings under Controlled Conditions

I would like to cite one experiment that Dr. Schwartz conducted, along with a collaborator, Linda Russek, PhD, that was videotaped by Home Box Office (HBO), the cable television company.  As such, we will call this study the HBO Experiment, which is found in Dr. Schwartz's book, The Afterlife Experiments. In this study, mediums would try to provide information to a subject about the subject’s deceased relatives.  We will refer to the mediums’ sessions with the subject as “readings.”

HBO Mediums Experiment Design with John Edward, Suzanne Northrup, George Anderson, Anne Gehman & Laurie Campbell


Linda Russek, the HBO producer for this project, insisted that none of the mediums or the experimenters, including Gary Schwartz, would know the identity of the subject who the mediums would perform readings on.  In this way, neither the mediums nor the experimenters would be able to research information regarding the subject prior to the experiment.

The HBO Experiment was done on February 20, 1999 in Tucson, Arizona, at a house specifically set up to prevent interaction between the mediums and the subject. When the mediums arrived, they were brought into a fenced-in back courtyard of the house.  The mediums were also kept separate from one another so that they could not compare notes in between their readings.

Linda Russek’s chosen subject, Patricia Price, was brought into the house and placed in the room where the readings would be conducted. She was seated in one of two chairs that were separated by a white, opaque, cloth screen.  The screen was positioned in this way so that the mediums would not be able to see the subject , and as such, the mediums would not be able to pick up clues based on nonverbal communication.

The five mediums who participated in this experiment were John Edward (pictured to the right), Suzanne Northrup, George Anderson, Anne Gehman and Laurie Campbell.  Dr. Schwartz considers these individuals to be very highly gifted mediums.  Specific content from readings performed by the five mediums are included in Gary Schwartz's book, The Afterlife Experiments.

Videotapes from the HBO Experiment resulted in 200 pages of transcripts. The information from the videotapes was categorized into six types of information: names, initials, descriptions, historical facts, temperament and opinions.  An opinion would be a statement such as ”your son wants me to tell you he doesn't blame you for his death”  (1) Opinions, such as this, would be difficult to objectively validate. The other hand, the other five types of information can be readily verified.

Overall, the information provided by the 5 mediums, which was documented through the videotape transcripts, resulted in 600 specific items or pieces of information.  This information was organized into documents for the subject to score, though the documents did not reveal which medium produced the information for each document.  As such, the subject did not know whose results she was scoring. The subject, Pat Price, was asked to score the accuracy of each item of information provided on the documents.  It took Pat Price ten hours to do the scoring.

After the sessions with the mediums were completed, Dr. Schwartz designed a control for the experiment by creating a list of yes or no questions regarding Patricia Price’s deceased relatives.  In addition, open-ended questions were also created regarding the deceased relatives.  A control group was created consisting of 68 students from the University of Arizona who were not mediums or psychics.  The control group was set up to ascertain how many correct responses could be obtained by simply guessing.

Outcome the HBO Experiment Assessing Mediums


The results from the HBO Experiment were quite striking.  The range of accuracy for the five mediums ranged from 77% to 95%, with an average of correct items for the mediums as 83%.  In contrast, the average of correct items for the control group was only 36%. These results are displayed in the graph provided to the right, which can be enlarged by placing your cursor over it. Dr. Schwartz made the following calculation:

“When the 83 percent for the mediums was compared with the 36 percent for the control group of students, the statistical probability of this difference occurring by chance alone was less than one in ten million” (2)

This study does provide support that mediumship, the ability of a medium to communicate with deceased individuals, is a valid phenomenon.  It should be noted, though, that the mediums did not achieve a score of 100%. One must understand that mediumship does not produce accurate information 100% of the time.  Still, through this experiment, it was shown that mediums can produce accurate information at a far higher percentage than what can be obtained by chance, a percentage that is very statistically significant.

To reiterate, Dr. Schwartz calculated that the odds of the mediums scoring so highly by chance alone was one in 10 million.

At this point, let us explore this phenomenon further, as there are several types of mediums.  Let us define mediumship as the ability of a human being to communicate with spirit beings or deceased indivduals, or the ability to allow a spirit being to talk through the medium.  In constrast, let us define an indvidual as "psychic" if that individual can derive information through extrasensory perception, but without the involvement of spirit beings.

Spirit communication is a general term that is used to describe the phenomenon of human beings accessing information from spirit beings. A synonymous term, spiritual communication, is used in academia to describe the same phenomenon.  For example, Mary Fong, PhD, an IISIS board member and Professor in Communication Studies, teaches a course on Spiritual Communication at California State University.

Trance Mediums & Mediumship

A trance medium works by going into a meditative state and allowing a spirit being to utilize the medium’s body to communicate with human beings.  When a spirit being comes through a trance medium, the medium's voice, accent, facial expressions, manner of speaking and sense of humor can change dramatically, so much so that it seems like the medium has become a different person.  Typically, the trance medium is not aware of what the spirit being is saying, or what goes on in the session, while the medium is in trance.

A well-known trance medium who works in this way is Kevin Ryerson, who has been featured in four of Shirley MacLaine's books.  Kevin jokes that in his work he serves as a "human telephone," providing a connection between the spirit guides he works with and his clients.  Kevin only channels a handful of spirit guides who are well known to him.

I have worked with Kevin extensively since 2001 and found that one of the spirit guides that he channels, whose name is Ahtun Re, has the ability to make past life or reincarnation matches with a high degree of accuracy.  Ahtun Re's personality, voice, fund of knowledge and sense of humor is quite different from Kevin's.  In sessions, I have very intense discussions with Ahtun Re, a spirit being, directly.  After the channeling session is over, Kevin does not have knowledge of what transpired.

My book, Origin of the Soul and the Purpose of Reincarnation, is based on my dialogues with Ahtun Re. Reincarnation cases that have been derived through my work with Kevin can be found at the following link:: Ryerson-Semkiw Reincarnation Cases

Another example of a trance medium who channels past life information is found in the reincarnation cases involving Penney Peirce.  The spirit guide channeled through the medium in the Peirce cases provided past life information that was encyclopedic in scope and detail, far beyond what the medium herself could have known.

Conscious Mediums & Psychics

A medium may also transmit messages from spirit beings while conscious.  Hans Christian King is an established medium who works in this way.  Hans has four specific spirit guides who work with him.  When a client sees Hans, it is the spirit guides who gather information for that person.  The spirit guides then telepathically transmit this information to Hans, who relays it to the client.  Hans is fully conscious during this process.

Of interest, through my work with Kevin Ryerson, past life identities of John Edward and Hans Christian King have been derived.  To learn more, go to: Past Lives of Psychics, Mediums and Spiritual Figures

Mediums Who Communicate with Deceased Loved Ones


A conscious medium may specialize in communicating with deceased individuals, usually departed relatives of the clients who come to see the medium.  The work of Gary Schwartz, described above, involves these types of mediums.  John Edward is a medium who works with several spirit beings or spirit guides who assist him in communicating with a client's deceased relatives.  John calls his spirit helpers or collaborators "The Boys."

Skeptics often try to dismiss the work of these types of mediums as trickery. Belief in their talents, though, not only comes through the work of individuals such as Dr. Gary Schwartz, but from personal experience with mediums and witnessing that they can indeed provide information that is accurate, information which could not have been accessed by normal means.  Let me share a personal story that is illustrative.

The Mediumship of Felix Lee Lerma


Though I personally have never had a session with James Van Praagh or John Edward, I have had a session with a young medium, Felix Lee Lerma, who has made me a believer in his abilities to communicate with the dead. Felix is picured to the right.

A close friend of mine, let us call her Anna, was born in Croatia and moved to San Francisco as a teenager, along with a community of other Croatians. In 2008, a number of people in her community passed away.  Several of Anna's friends had sessions with Felix and they related that the information gained was very meaningful.

Anna had lost her mother several years before and she was very excited about the prospect of communicating with her beloved mother. Anna not only made an appointment with Felix for herself, but she also made an appointment for her niece. Both appointments were set up for a particular Saturday, with Anna scheduled to see Felix at 1 PM and her niece scheduled to see him at 4 PM.

On the morning of the appointments, Anna's niece called to advise that she would not be able to make the session with Felix. Anna then suggested that I take the appointment instead, since it was already paid for.  Anna did not inform Felix of the change in plan, nor did her niece.

Two Spirit Families Show Up for a Session with Felix

When Anna arrived to see Felix, he noted that there were two different families from the spirit world that were very anxious to speak to her. He stated that one family was Croatian, which was understandable. What was unexpected is that Felix stated that the other family was Ukrainian.

My parents were born in Ukraine and apparently my deceased family members showed up early during Anna's session, apparently anticipating the session that I would have later that afternoon. Anna has no Ukrainian relatives or friends, other than me.

Remarkably, as noted, Felix was unaware that I was going to have to session at 4 PM instead of Anna's Croatian niece.  Further, in addition to Felix having no knowledge about my appointment, Felix knew nothing about me. I myself had never heard of Felix before that date.

The question is, how did Felix know such specific information regarding a Ukrainian family when Anna appeared for her appointment?

In Anna's session, Felix accurately named Croatian relatives who had died and he provided details about their lives that were true.  These individuals had unusual first names, such as Radko, which would be difficult for a non-Croatian to know.

In sum, after our sessions, Anna and I were convinced that Felix genuinely was able to contact our deceased relatives and convey accurate information from them to us. Felix conveyed information that he could not have learned through normal means.

Assessing Mediums & Psychics

In closing, it does appear that there are gifted individuals who are able to communicate with the spirit beings.  Different mediums vary in what they can do. For example, Kevin Ryerson does not have the ability to communicate with deceased relatives; rather his mediumship involves working with a specific group of spirit guides or teachers. Conversely, Felix does not typically channel specific spirit guides, rather he works with deceased relatives of his clients.

As previously noted, we have defined a psychic as an individual who is able to acquire information by extrasensory means, but who does not work with spirit beings as intermediaries to ascertain this information.

Clairvoyants are mediums or psychics who get information through visions or visual clues.  Clairaudients are mediums or psychics who receive information through auditory means, such as hearing voices that convey a message.

Though we have made distinctions between different types of mediums and psychics, some individuals can have abilities that cross over into more than one category.

The accuracy of mediums and psychics can vary. One must have significant experience with these individuals to understand their strengths and weaknesses, and to determine whether information gained through the medium or psychic is of value.

Contact Information for Felix Lee Lerma

I can share that information provided to Anna and me through Felix was valid and helpful. For those who are interested in contacting their own loved ones who have passed away, please visit his website:


Go back to: IISIS Section on Spirit Beings

Go to: Independently Derived Reincarnation Cases with the Past Life Reseach of Ian Stevenson, MD

Go to: Ryerson-Semkiw Celebrity & Historic Figure Reincarnation Cases

Go to: Reincarnation Cases: Alphabetical Listing



1. Schwartz, Gary E., The Afterlife Experiments, Pocket Books, 2002, page 119
2. Schwartz, Gary E., The Afterlife Experiments, Pocket Books, 2002, page 121
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